King County Expands Fare-Free Transit for Riders in Need

The victory for homeless and very low-income transit riders is a reminder of the importance of grassroots organizing.

2 minute read

December 6, 2016, 1:00 PM PST

By Elana Eden

Seattle Transit

Oran Viriyincy / Flickr

Last year, organizations in King County provided more than 1.4 million Metro tickets to homeless people, refugees, and other low-income people struggling to afford trips to shelters, job centers, and other crucial resources.

Metro's Human Services Ticket Program, which partially subsidizes tickets for human services agencies to distribute, launched 25 years ago after ongoing public demonstrations by the agencies and their clients. And in September, ongoing organizing once again motivated King County Council to unanimously move to strengthen the program.

Katie Wilson of Seattle's Transit Riders Union explains in the Seattle Transit Blog that rising housing costs and homelessness rates have drastically increased the need for tickets. But a cap on allocations has limited the number of tickets available, and fare increases have made even the discounted price too much for some organizations.

The problem may have continued to get worse, Wilson writes, if not for a dedicated grassroots effort to get the Council to address it. Now, Metro will raise the cap on ticket allocations and cut the price of tickets in half, as well as collaborate with other county stakeholders to fulfill "transit’s role in contributing to the social safety net for the lowest income residents."

In addition to more comprehensive local measures, Wilson turns an eye to big-picture solutions like taking on the State Legislature and integrating the region's transit system—noting:

Many of the hundreds of low-income people who have participated in struggles for affordable transit would love to take on these broader transformative issues, if only they didn’t have to be more immediately concerned about getting from A to B.

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